September 26, 2008

Budapest, Hungary

Leaving the family nest in Greece once again was like ripping myself out of a hot, outdoor Hungarian thermal bath on a cold winter’s day. Becoming increasingly more comfortable with my surroundings there, whipping around Athens in a compact car pumping the summer’s top 40 dance hits, enjoying long, relaxing dinners with the family and catching up with friends, seemed to produce a faint but repeating voice in my head saying, “Stay Andriana. Rent a place and unpack your suitcase. You have family, friends, a pending national passport – ‘just add water’ and start your new life.” But then my wanderlust kicks in like an uncontrolled adrenaline rush and I find myself on the Metro, heading to the Airport, boarding a plane destined for Budapest.
I was picking up the trail I had planned through Europe, of which I had taken a month long break from in August, and it was clear when my plane landed that this would be done in the cold, windy rain. I want to say that the characteristic grey skies of Budapest in the fall were charming, creating a monochromatic backdrop from which to take in the beautiful, oversized architecture, winding streets and Danube River passage, but, really, I was way too soggy to follow that train of thought. And so, preserving whatever Mediterranean warmth I still had flowing through my blood, I headed out on a Saturday night to find myself some entertainment and quickly realized that in order to party like a local all I would need to do was purchase a really large, open container of alcohol and walk the streets for a few hours screaming, laughing and stumbling around on my feet. When I decided that my brown paper bag, Colt 45 days had long been over, I slipped into a cozy jazz bar and was warmly welcomed by a Can Can dancing Hungarian Matador who, while whirling me around the city on the handlebars of a bicycle, gave me a good glimpse of the energetic weekend nightlife.
Trying to choose between all the interesting attractions and culturally packed museums Budapest has to offer is a bit difficult as there is a wide range from the Jewish Museum to the Royal Palace to the House of Terror, which documents Hungary’s communist years. While I managed the Historical Museum, I spent more time taking a modern approach visiting the world famous Bodies exhibit and a fantastic display of the work of famous Hungarian photographers such as Brassai, Andre Kertesz, and Robert Capa at the Museum of Fine Arts. But potentially one of my favorite attractions and one of the lesser visited in Budapest was discovered when, trying to find some protection from the rain, I followed these damp, eerie stairs down below the Buda Castle and entered into the Labyrinths. These Labyrinths were actually created as a bomb shelter in WW11 but I chose to ignore that historical fact and decided instead to pretend that they were built hundreds of years ago in order to trick potential invaders or that they were created as a confusing, mind altering dungeon for the palace’s mutinous population. And the creators of this little nugget of random pleasure were with me because they had successfully created an Indiana Jones environment complete with speakers pumping the sound of a beating heart and scary stone figures holding candles, making me wonder if I might finally be getting one step closer to finding The Holy Grail.
Along with all it’s groovy museums, Budapest is also known for it’s natural, thermal hot springs, which they have turned into elaborate Roman and Turkish style bathhouses where on any given day there are locals professionally soaking and socializing in warm pools of water and saunas which is the perfect antidote to the chilly fall air. Luckily I left my green everyone-is-tired-of-seeing-this-in-photos bathing suit in Greece which gave me the unique opportunity to rent (yes, rent) a groovy teal metallic two piece from the bathhouse in the City Park and head into the healing, steaming waters and make like a local with a three hour float; the precise float I had spent all summer perfecting in Greece.
After four days of riding the trams and buses and consistently ending up lost, I decided it was time I tried my luck at a new kind of tourism – Dental Tourism. After seeing so many different crowns in the Historical Museum, I was motivated for a crown of my very own – well, two crowns of my very own; two crowns right in the center of my face. And so armed with a train ticket to Brno in The Czech Republic and a dentist appointment made by my friend who lives there, I was off to divide and conquer the territory of my smile.

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